Thursday, August 31, 2006

Haiku for Sparkey

For Sparky,
Sparky, leaving soon,
Giving all who've known you joy,
Peace awaits you now.

--anonymous friend and animal lover

Sparkey's Brother, Gallagher

It may be hard to believe but this is Sparkey's practically twin brother (not Sparkey himself with an upright ear moment!). This is the ever so gallant Gallagher, aka Cute Boy. I received the sad news just days ago that Gallagher died unexpectedly in his back yard. His owner, Lois, me, and and our mutual vet all thought that Cute Boy would outlive Sparkey...but Sparks will have outlived his litter-mate by a few weeks...Through the animal communicator, we reminded Sparkey about his brother, whom he remembered had a "spicey smell"and we asked Gallagher to help greet Sparkey. Its clear that Cute Boy is already having a blast and will gladly romp with his bio bro.

With blessings from Sparkey's aunt, I have included the moving story of Cute Boy's passage and powerful tributes after...

much love from our hurtin' and grateful hearts,


hi mary - i have to let you know gallagher died quite suddenly a week ago saturday. (the anniversary of my dad dying too) he was quite fine during the day, went for a nice long walk, was playful with martin, hearty appetite, lots of cuddling. then later in the evening i noticed he was kind of panting, but i didn't think too much about it except that it seemed odd. he went outside, which is normal, the door is always open with screen flaps to come and go as they please. also not unusual to not come back in when i go to bed. but what was unusual, was at 6 a.m., he always barks a loud, sharp, single, wake-up bark, to announce i need to be getting up to feed them. but i didn't hear it, and suddenly had a sinking feeling, and got up on my bed and looked out the window and saw him laying on the lawn and not responding when i called tohim. he was stiff when i got downstairs, so i suspect he'd had a heart attack. heartbroken, i was not terribly functional last week. i did put up a flyer at our village coop, and had a memorial service for him yesterday in the pouring rain. some 20+ people showed up. even some folks i don't know, but had stories to tell me about how gallagher affected them. he was known as the mayor of dudleyville. my brother helped me bury him, and i planted an empire apple tree atop. one person brought some of the ashes of her dog, who was one of gallagher's first playmates, and put on his grave. i laminated a particularly regal picture of gallagher, where he is wearing a black bow tie, and titled it, "the mayor of dudleyville". i glued on a plastic top hat and cane. i also planted some mums and azaleas, and created a rather nice garden space. i had a scrapbook of pictures and people wrote in their sentiments. one person wrote a 3 page poem. i served cookies made in the shape of dogs and dog bones, and had quite a memorial service. it is all over now, but i feel blessed to have been the recipient of the gift of gallagher, as you are of sparkey. i hope you are all well.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Pain of Clarity

On the tail of our conversation with the vet yesterday, today's process involved a telephone "reading" with an animal communciator who's been assisting us since Sparkey left the hospital. The result of that conversation is that we're now very clear that Sparkey wants to go and is ready to transition out of his body. If you cannot suspend your disbelief that we were actually able to tap into such information, suffice it to say that we now feel comfortable that the time has come, and we now have to steel ourselves for the task at hand, sad as it may be.

Our priority is Sparkey's comfort and the avoidance of unnecessary suffering on his part. We know that what he would face in the coming months is increasing debilitation, eventual complete loss of the use of his hind legs, and utter kidney failure. Even today he would not get up from the floor for the local dogwalker to take him out to pee in the mid-afternoon, and we're now using an adaptive sling to keep his hindquarters elevated. Still, he's eating well and drinking lots of water, readily accepting most treats proferred.

Now we begin to prepare the logistics---beyond the emotional preparation---for Sparkey's physical departure from our midst. Tina will actually be in the home of a loving neighbor well before the vet arrives to our home on Saturday morning in order to spare her the trauma and anxiety that the vet's appearance inevitably causes her. The most appropriate place for the vet to administer the anesthesia seems to be the screened-in porch where the dogs spends a great deal of their time, looking out at the boggy hollow beside our house, 150-foot white pines standing guard over the house.

His body's final resting place will be just to the side of the house in a sweet spot edged by three young rhododendron plants whose roots have already been fertilized with the ashes of our dear friend Woody who died in 2001. Woody and Sparkey had many adventures together, running at breakneck speed through the woods together, returning to our home bloodied, limping, and ecstatic. Some of those jaunts with Woody could leave Sparkey exhausted for several days, but he always seemed to revel in that well-earned exhaustion. There's a fitting poetry that Sparkey's body will share some soil with Woody's ashes, just as one of Sparkey's puppy teeth and one of our son's baby teeth are buried with Woody's urn in a Connecticut graveyard overlooking a rushing stream.

Writing about this process seems both unreal and somehow grounding. Simultaneous and conflicting emotions emerge. How can we choose to willfully end the life of this sentient being who still walks (sort of), eats, breathes, drinks, and shows affection (to a limited degree)? What right do we have to make that decision? What responsiblity do we have to facilitate a peaceful leave-taking? The answers now seem clear, although that clarity is painful to the eyes and the heart. It is also apparent in his eyes. According to the animal communicator, he's ready, and has been for some weeks. Even Tina knows. It was obvious to the vet yesterday, and for this reason ---based upon years of experience---she knows that the time has come.

We've already shed many tears, and I can't see any end to those tears right now, but I know that the pain will lessen with time. Imagining wrapping him in a sheet, lowering his body into the ground, and actually covering that body with dirt----this all seems so improbable, otherworldly, meant for another time, another place. But my conscience knows that the time and place are now and we are the players who have to fulfill our roles, as much as we feel that the rehearsals are far too brief and the playwrite cruel at best.

That said, Sparkey will sail from his body and be freed from the limitation of physical embodiment, and we'll stay behind to tend his grave, water the flowers that will bloom there, and honor his memory and spirit that will not die with his tired old shell, his ageing vehicle.

I expect a wide range of emotions over the next few days, on Saturday morning, and for days, months, and years to come. We just have to let those emotions wash over us like so many waves, and just keep breathing, even as Sparkey's breathing ceases altogether.

Please pray for us on Saturday morning---or any time---and know that your thoughts and prayers will be felt by all of us, magnified by the love and compassion that they reflect.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Loving Sparkey

Until one has loved an animal,

a part of one's soul remains unawakened.

---Anatole France

The vet visited Sparkey at home around one in the afternoon and called me about 3:30 on my cellphone. I was at work, and it was my turn to clean the office kitchen. She gave me her report, detailing the muscle wasting, hind leg atrophy, disequilibrium and cognitive deficits that she observed, as well as the ongoing renal failure. Just as she began to recommend that we strongly consider euthanasia, a coworker walked in and distracted me, my eyes beginning to fill with tears. I left the kitchen, cellphone clutched to my ear, and made my way to a quiet corner, sitting at one of the doctor's desks, photos of children grinning from the bulletin board as I fiddled with pens and paperclips during the continued conversation with the vet.

Taking into consideration that the kidney failure will only get worse, and Sparkey's physical disability become more of a burden for him and us, she gently advocated for us to euthanize him before something bad happens. The way she explained it, if his kidneys blow---and they could at any moment---he'll vomit and retch uncontrollably and suffer a horrific plethora of symptoms. With his hind legs like they are, we're also running the risk of him experiencing an injury or fracture---likely while we're at work---that will cause him terrible suffering. Euthanizing him while in acute pain or organ failure would be much less comfortable for him and a terrible way for us to say goodbye to our loyal friend and family member.

The vet counseled me that we have gone above and beyond, providing home hospice care with a nightly IV for more than four months, more than many people would do. She urged me to not second-guess what we could have done better, and to rest my mind in the certainty that we have given Sparkey a loving home and the best care we could manage. She assured me that he is not yet in great pain, just uncomfortable, and the most humane thing to do is allow him to leave with dignity and without undue suffering. I told her that we would consult our animal communicator in the morning by phone, and follow up with her in 24 hours. We agreed that the appointment which we so strongly hesitate to make could take place at our home on Saturday morning, four days hence.

Tearful, face quivering, I retreated to my desk in the corner of the office, and was consoled by three different co-workers, who hugged me and offered their own experiences and stories, which were simultaneously comforting and frightening. I fled the office, leaving my desk a mess, and drove over to Mary's office where I gave her the news. We both cried on and off in the car, stopping by our previous vet's place to pick up IV supplies. One of the lovely and compassionate vet technicians at that office who loves Sparkey and really sees his soul took us into a private office and counseled us in our despair and confusion. She was saintly in the attention she gave us, and we are forever grateful for her kindness and largesse.

The ride home called for a stop at Friendly's, kid-size coffee Fribbles for us and a dish of vanilla ice cream for Sparkey. When the going gets tough, the tough eat ice cream.

It's going to take a few days to integrate this, to come to terms with the reality, and to accept what we have to do. While deciding to end an animal's life in a medical manner may seem unnatural, the domestication of animals is also somewhat unnatural and we must bear the full responsibility of their care, and often the timing of their death. My heart feels like it's breaking tonight, but perhaps that breaking does not have to be seen as injury, rather, it's an opening, an opportunity for even more compassion to be experienced, whether I want that experience or not.


Monday, August 28, 2006


Attachment is what it is. Attachment to how things are. Attachment to the present, even as the present slips into the past. Sparkey is a symbol of the life we have lived for fourteen years---the majority of our seventeen years of marriage---and the loyal mascot and guide who has seen us through so much---so knowingly, so quietly, so regally.

I am attached to his smell, the feeling of his fur against my leg, that pointy spot on the top of his head, his wet nose, his soulful eyes and determined eagerness to be outdoors, prancing in the leaves, water, and grass. His paws often smell like the sweetest, earthiest musk, and his presence has always been a source of calm---through nursing school, Mary's grad school days, Rene's transition from childhood into adulthood, the murder and soul-wrenching loss of our best family friend in 2001. He's always been there. And now we're there for him as he prepares to leave, and I am finally beginning to let go.

You can go now, Sparks. It's been a job well done, a life well lived. You can let go and know that you were the best dog you could be and brought so much joy to many. Be free.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rainy Sunday

The rain has been soaking the earth most of the day. It's late evening, and I just finished Sparkey's IV. We were hanging out upstairs and he joined us, and now seems hesitant to go back down. He's been making it up to the second floor on his own recently, but going down is most problematic, like he just can't put on the brakes. I've taken to carrying him both up and down the stairs most of the time, and sometimes carry him to the house from the driveway when he just seems too tired or reluctant. I take a break from writing and carry him down. Mary's convincing him to go for a walk.

Mary feels that he just isn't having much fun anymore and I must agree. We'll be consulting the animal communicator soon, and the vet will be here Tuesday to give us her input. When I think of euthanizing Sparkey, I feel a queasy feeling in my stomach. How to say goodbye under those circumstances? Do we cook him a last supper? When is the right time? Do I dig the grave before or after? Should our son be here or not? It's overwhelming and sad. I'm at a loss.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Reality Check

We've asked the vet to come to the house to assess Sparkey. She'll be coming on Tuesday while we're at work. Sparkey's ability to walk on his hind legs is diminishing and we think the time is near for him to be freed from the confines of his body. I came to terms with that harsh reality on a walk around the block this evening after work, Sparkey scraping the top of his right hind paw along the ground, his little bootie falling apart at the seams. It's pathetic, and perhaps our hanging on is also pathetic, if not just plain sad.

Old friends from DC came to visit overnight last night with their lovely little girls. These two friends kept Sparkey with them in Maryland for one month in 1999 when we were in Europe. We had previously had their big black Lab---Zimbra---for a year while they were on their honeymoon in the mid-90's. We have been very soulfully connected to one anothers' dogs and children over the years, and they knew that this visit with Sparkey was definitely good-bye. Old Zimbra---Sparkey's former housemate for a year---left this earth a few years ago, beloved as always. Our friend Paul told us the story of finding Zimbra dead in the living room one early morning, and I verbalized our desire that this would be our fate with Sparkey, but we know for certain that this will most likely simply not be. He will need our help, and soon. Ah, me.

Sogyal Rinpoche shares:

At every moment in our lives we need compassion, but what more urgent moment could there be than when we are dying? What more wonderful and consoling gift could you give to dying people [or animals] than the knowledge that they are being prayed for, and that you are taking on their suffering and purifying their negative karma through your practice for them?

Even if they don’t know that you are practicing for them, you are helping them and in turn they are helping you. They are actively helping you to develop your compassion, and so to purify and heal yourself. For me, all dying people [or creatures] are teachers, giving to all those who help them a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

From Lord Mountbatten

This note from our trusty dog-walker Dave awaited us after work today:

"Hi-Lo-Lo---Here I am again. Sparkey was a bit slow to rouse today, and still wobbly. But we did get him out and about. He must have gotten into the likker cabinet again. And I thought I was the only one. Nothing much else to report. Have a good nite. -----Lord Mountbatten"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How Long?

Sparkey seems slightly more debilitated every day. He's really dragging his hind legs, eschewing food as often as he's accepting it, sleeping most of the time. We are now beginning to wonder how long to let this go on, how long to allow him to be in this state.

We ask ourselves if he is still experiencing any pleasure in life. Does he feel pain? Does he still want the IV and the meds? Are we being selfish by prolonging his life or are we allowing him to live out his days in relative comfort? How long is long enough? Do we allow him to get to the point where he can no longer walk at all and then make that decision?

We are wrestling with these questions daily now and praying, hoping, asking for an answer from him, from the Goddess, from God, from the ethers, from our souls.

How long is long enough?


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hello, its Mary, Sparkey's finder, rescuer, and pack mother. I am pokin' my head in and making a rare appearance--visible to others, that is.

After Keith's last and deeply moving post, I knew it was time to return here myself. I know I have been remiss in writing, but i do visit Sparkey's blog daily...i suppose i haven't been into writing but lately i have been feeling the itch to share some Sparkey stories...Most importantly is the love that is shared among our pack, and i treasure each and every day we have with the 4 and often 5 of us all together.

I promise to post some happy stories, but today i am experiencing the sadness of loss regarding our loyal old pal--the loss of his senses, his agile physical abilities, his avid and voracious appetite, those buff muscles keith referred to, and our adventures in the great outdoors---Sparkey's favorite place in the whole wide world. This morning he refused to lick Keith's yogurt container and he barely sniffed with dim interest at a huge beef jerky strip that, in healthier days, he would have fought to secure for himself. It was as though he was telling me that he wanted to want this treat, but he is just too weak to rally. I understood and stashed it for later within his visual range, assuring him that it is his for later...A bit after Tina devoured hers, I offered this special treat again to Bob, and he managed to slowly relish the beef jerky. He's now returned to sleep--and is quite the deep napper these latter days.

I am reminded by his deep sleeps how much work it can be to prepare for death, the great passage, and that this is precisely what his body is doing, like that song Old Man River, but without the fear. Sparkey is doing this so well, and he will forever be an example to me.

I have some fears though, questions that plague me like, will he suffer? will we be there to end his suffering? will the doctor be able to make it on time? will Rene? how devestating will Spark's death and post death absence be on Keith? on Rene? Somehow I fancy that I will be fine, just fine...which of course is a red flag and I am thus awakened from a pervasive denial that I've been running... Its no wonder that i have been somewhat stoic and even avoidant...I have refused to do Sparkey's IV--and rarely participate in it when i could be there for both Keith and Sparkey during the process. Keith has been a saint in this regard, and I have been a coward, and coward is a word that does not fit with how i see myself, yet here i am, guilty as charged, and for this I am sorry, Keith and Sparkey. I think I have been avoiding feeling the pain that has now caught up to me. Please forgive me, you two, and as you see, Keith, I have my limits, and rather than stretch beyond them as is my usual MO, I have slinked out on you both. Again, please forgive me for copping out in this important, life-saving daily ritual.

While I have been a pathetic wimp in regards to the IV, I am still Spark's pack mom, and he will always be my boy. I know he can't hear me crying right now, or he would begin pacing and personalizing my distress. Usually Tina comes to the emotional rescue to comfort someone who is feeling sad, but even my girl is deep in slumber on this cloudy August morning. I hear the rustling of Rene in the kitchen and will rally to provide a dog day afternoon for us all...


The Ink of Love and Loyalty

Tonight I taught our son Rene how to give Sparkey his IV. We will be away for a weekend in September and Rene will care for the dogs and house. We never expected Sparkey to be around for September, and are now reluctant to leave him with anyone except for Rene, his brother and pack member for fourteen years.

Since Rene will only need to do the IV once, I didn't show him how to spike the bag, prime the drip chamber, and other prep. He will simply have a pre-prepared bag ready to go since I will do the IV on Friday morning before work and then again on Sunday night when we return. Saturday night will be for the two boys---the canine and the human.

Rene took in the instructions easily, grasping the concepts immediately. After some guiding words, he lifted the scruff, found the sweet spot, inserted the needle, and opened the line, the solution flowing readily and quickly. Holding the bag up, he squeezed mightily for about seven minutes as the solution flowed into Sparkey's subcutaneous space.

During the treatment, I explained kidney function, kidney failure, and dialysis. We discussed Sparkey's symptoms and what we might expect down the road and what symptoms might force our hand. We kissed Sparkey, fed him his pills wrapped in sliced turkey breast, then plied him with ice cream as a chaser. He took it all in stride and turned up his nose when he had had his fill.

Just now---I am writing at 1 A.M.---Sparkey woke, left the downstairs bedroom where he was sleeping with Rene, drank some water noisily from the toilet, and then loped up the stairs to join Mary and Tina in the upstairs bedroom. He tripped and faltered a few times, and I ran to the bottom of the stairs to assist, but he made it to the summit on his own and disappeared into the darkness of the second-floor hallway, and into the room where Mary and Tina slumber. He doesn't seem to mind that we are itinerant sleepers, moving from room to room based on temperature, weather, and how many houseguests are currently ensconced.

I will so miss that boy when he goes. He was---and always will be---my first dog. He is loyal, attentive, affectionate (less now than before, of course), predictable yet surprising, simple yet deep, soulful, animal yet strangely human. His eyes convey so much, and I watch him watch us, his dulled senses still keen to assess our moods, our intentions, our patterns of behavior. He can no longer hear us say, "Wanna go for a walk outside?" He watches our movements, obviously refraining from getting up until he's sure. Mary discovered months ago that loud and sharp clapping is the best signal to let him know that our intention is clear and a walk is imminent. Two claps and he's lumbering for the door.

Rene marveled at the insubstantiality of Sparkey's hindquarters. We used to say that his hips and butt were so muscular and developed, it made you want to just take a big affectionate bite. Now, bones protrude and the muscle mass is gone, the hindquarters weak and atrophied. Rene also marveled at the way the 1/2-liter of IV fluid infused into Sparkey's scruff hung over his neck like Quasimodo's hump. The Hunchdog of Notre Casa. Rene looked Sparks deep in the eyes. Sparkey reciprocated by kissing Rene's nose.

It's a bond like no other. It's a level of trust between human and animal which dates back millenia. While we don't hunt and gather or protect the cave from predators, we rely on one another and live a symbiotic existence which binds our souls together, cleaves our lives into a domestic whole.

The hole which will be left by Sparkey's eventual departure will be gaping, but he will live in our hearts, his life and its innocent dedication to us inscribed in indelible ink. It is the ink of love and loyalty, and the narrative which it writes is an age-old story. We are living that tale, and we breathe in each moment, welcoming the fact that this is yet another moment in love together on this earth. May we all see how that ink of love fills the pages of our lives, making a mark worthy of remembrance and gratitude for a life well lived.


Friday, August 18, 2006

A Day in the Life.....

We had a walk around the block while Mary was at the gym after work. ("Curves for Women", that is.) Sparkey had rest on his mind, so we had two relatively long stops along the way. The mail-carrier gave us treats, and then while we rested in front of the mailboxes, a neighbor---or rather a woman who works in a group home for disabled individuals across from our driveway---also came bearing canine snacks.

Either sensing that Mary would be home soon, or just enjoying watching the action on our somewhat bucolic street, Sparkey insisted that we sit on the grass at the side of the road until Mary arrived. Tina would have been happy to run home and fall asleep on the porch, but no such luck today. Thankfully, Mary did not keep us waiting long.

(BTW, please see my other blog for an account of my day prior to coming home to the beloved canines.)

Lucky for me (and said hounds), we discovered a meat outlet near our workplaces yesterday and had the fortune to purchase pre-cooked frozen meatballs and burgers en masse. This translates into no barbecuing for Keith, and a nice change of culinary pace for Bob and The Girl. Can you beat that?

Just a day in the life, folks....


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Small Joys

Other dog people might understand this sentiment. Especially since Sparkey has been ailing, I find great pleasure in very small things regarding the old guy.

The other day, he and I were coming back from a walk with Tina and he pulled his usual stunt of sitting down at the driveway (which is about 200 feet from our house), making it obvious that he wanted to hang out for a while. If I was on my way to work, this would be inconvenient, but since it was a day off, I tied him to the lamp-post and walked back to the house with Tina, who is always eager to come home just in case a treat might manifest itself.

After about 30 minutes, I took a few treats, a small container of water, and my current novel down to the driveway, taking advantage of the fact that I had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Sparks didn't hear me coming as I sat down beside him on the ground. Feeding him treats and then offering him the bowl of water, I kept my face quite close to his and reveled in the sounds of his munching and slurping and swallowing, licking his chops (and my nose) after he had had his fill.

Although we have always taken great pleasure from the small antics and habits of our canine companions, at this particular moment---perhaps because it was my birthday and I was relaxingly spending the day alone with the dogs---this moment of connecting with Sparkey over snacks and water was memorable and remarkable. Just the sensual experience of hearing and watching him imbibe some nourishment was enough to give me some worthy moments of simple pleasure.

Is this strange to a non-dog person who sees dogs as simply animals? Perhaps. But to a person who loves dogs or any animals, these simple moments can be almost transcendent.

Treats, anyone?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's In the Numbers

So today---my birthday---is day 120 since Sparkey left the ICU. That means 120 doses of IV fluids. That's 60,000 cc's---60 liters---of Lactated Ringers Solution under his skin! What a trooper! What troopers we all are!

Any votes for 120 more? (Tina votes yes, as long as the BBQ'd chicken keeps coming!)


Monday, August 14, 2006

On the Town

Today we went on an outing to town, giving the dogs time at the ol' swimming hole, our favorite CD store, the local collective pinko-commie bookstore (where he received an overwhelming welcome), and our favorite ice cream shop. Sparkey had what I consider his personal favorite flavor (not Cherry Red, for you Rolling Stones fans) but old-fashioned vanilla. Tina partook as well, but a significantly smaller serving for the little "Barrel-on-Sticks". The compassionate and kind ice cream staff also served up cold water, much to the dogs' needful delight.

Overall, a sucessful trip to town, and no one the worse for wear after treats, exercise, a swim, and seeing old friends.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Did You Say Vegetarian?

This vegetarian household has always made an exception for its canine occupants, buying canned and dry dogfood in enormous quantities over the years. While some may try to raise vegetarian dogs, we're of the mind that naturally carnivorous domesticated animals should be given the diet to which they are naturally accustomed. And since Sparkey's Easter illness, as he began to earnestly eschew his regular diet, I have grown quite expert at grilling tender vittles to titillate his taste buds (and Tina's, by extension).

Speaking of Tina, when Sparks eventually does go to Doggie Heaven, I'm not planning to continue my canine culinary accomplishments, and Tina will need to be weaned off of this luxurious diet towards a more affordable and less labor intensive cuisine. However, if she ever becomes as ill as Sparkey, she can rest assured that we will care for her with equally tender loving care, with a menu to match.

Nevertheless, I must say that when these dogs have had occasion to swallow a tofu dog or veggie burger, they've never seemed to balk at the cellulose origins of said offerings, and in fact seem to favor certain brands.

Now back to the grill....


Friday, August 11, 2006

Wisdom of the Buddha

This missive is from a daily meditation which I receive by email each morning, selected by Sogyal Rinpoche, who wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. You can subscribe to this excellent daily email here.

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds

To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain. ----Buddha


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ravenous for Life

Ravenous for life. Yes, the zest is still there, lame legs and failing kidneys be damned!

Last night was a visit to friends, described in the previous post. Tonight was a trip to town to have a picnic with a friend who starts a new job and career as a nurse tomorrow. Sparkey was very interested in a few other dogs, actually played and made a show of machismo with a young Border Collie, ate cheese, tortillas, dog food, and anything else on offer (except for fried plaintains) and has since collapsed on the dining room floor after I carried him from the car to the front porch. The poor guy is exhausted.

It seems as if we're just packing in the good times while Sparkey is still mobile and game for some adventure. We try not to push him too hard, but also try to provide him with interesting, varied, and enjoyable experiences that involve people, food, cars, walks, water, more food, dogs, and even more food, not to mention food. I am not in sufficient enough denial to see his ravenous eating as anything but symptoms of protein loss via his failing kidneys, but my Inner Jewish Mother (I.J.M.) loves to watch him eat, and that same I.J.M. is crestfallen when he turns up his nose at perfectly good vittles.

We'll keep the missives coming, keep documenting Sparkey's days, and hope that summer will turn into autumn and this golden boy will have a chance to once again lay in the crunchy golden maple leaves which match his coat so nicely. We know that this is his final summer (based upon the prognosis and common sense), and thus also assume that this autumn will be his last experience of that season as well. If he actually sees the winter, then that will be a triumph indeed.

All that aside, we'll just continue to take it one day at a time, thank you.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

We Go A-Visitin'

Tonight we visited the home of dear friends who recently lost a dog who I have previously described as a friend to both Sparkey and Tina. "Stanley" is buried in a secluded spot behind their home, and Mary and I paid our respects, leaving echinacea flowers in a small vase to commemorate our visit. Tina also came by, sniffed the grave, and poked her nose in Stanley's bowl which marks his resting place.

Over a lovely grilled dinner, we reminisced with our friends about our dogs as Sparkey and Tina lay nearby, comfortable and at peace in a house which is like their second home and where they are always welcomed with love and affection. The missing piece was Stanley, but his spirit can still be felt.

Sparkey's skinny skeletal self seemed to surprise one of our friends, but his spirit never changes. We remembered puppy-ish antics played out with our children who are now adults, and the joy that having a dog brought to our kids' lives. Now our kids must grapple with the deaths of beloved canine friends. Such is life.

All in all, a lovely evening, another walk down Memory Lane for Sparkey, and another reminder that each day with him and Tina is a day to be grateful for.

Amen. Amen? Adog.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Head Tilt

Sparkey has always been well-known for his retention of that most puppyish and endearing habit---the head-tilt-while-listening. The photo at left illustrates a classic example of such, circa May, 2005.

He would always reliably tilt his head from side to side in response to his favorite questions said with a marked questioning uplift at the end, obviously trying to divine the meaning of our question and the authenticity of the offer:

Do you want to go for a walk outside?
Do you want a treat?
Do you want to go for a ride in the car?
Do you want me to dial the number for you?

Alas, the head-tilt is a phenomenon of the past, but his cuteness is not diminished. Au countraire! He is more endearing by the day.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Still Breathing

Just about every morning, I wake up and look over at Sparkey sprawled on the floor and try to see if he's still breathing. Sometimes his respirations seem so shallow, I have to put my hand on his bony rib-cage just to be sure.

While we would hope that Sparks will at some point simply die painlessly in his sleep, wandering off to the spirit world from his rich dream world, we've been informed fairly clearly that his heart is quite strong and he may very well eventually need us to assist him in leaving his body. Being midwives to his passage will not be easy, but it's something that we're prepared to do as many pet owners have done before us.

In this culture, euthanasia of animals is accepted, legal and accessible, and having that option can preclude much needless suffering. While humans may not truly have that legal option outside of Oregon and The Netherlands, we're comforted by the fact that our vet will come to our home if the time ever comes that we have to give our best boy that blessing to go in peace.

On this beautiful summer day, I can't imagine not having Bob around, his orange fur rising and falling with his peaceful breathing, his feet twitching as he sleeps, his pointy bony head, his soulful eyes with little blonde lashes. But here we are, another day, and he awoke just like any other. We're both a little stiff, hungry and thirsty, but still ready for the day.

Still breathing.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Old Friends

Sparkey and Tina and I went over to our old neighborhood this evening to visit some sweet former neighbors, one of whom is Sparkey's canine puppyhood friend, Amos, who is one year Sparkey's junior. On the way over in the car, I opened all the windows and drove slowly through the forested roads, Tina with her head out the window, sniffing madly. Sparkey looked out the window as well, and I accompanied our ride with a running commentary of memories of the neighborhood which we left in 1999 and where the dogs spent their formative years.

Turning the corner onto the street of our destination, lo and behold, there was Amos wandering in the road. I pulled the car to a stop and called his name, Amos bounding over in a very energetic way for such an old dog. He wagged his tail and whimpered, following our car and taking a short cut across the neighbor's yard (just like the old days) and meeting us at the top of the driveway.

Amos' maternal unit greeted us warmly and the dogs were affectionate with her, obviously remembering her scent, as well as her loving demeanor. We proceeded to sit in the grass and talk over chips and salsa, the dogs thoroughly enjoying the crunchy nuttiness of the flax seed corn chips which they readily gobbled.

Unlike the old days, Sparkey and Amos didn't really play, but like old men on a porch, contemplating the winter of their lives, they watched the trees, felt the warm air of the summer night, and lay in our midst as the pack animals they truly are, obviously contented, panting, and satisfied. Even Tina has become somewhat less playful, and spent an hour or so lounging in the grass at my side, the lassitude of these extraordinarily hot August days in full control of her energy output.

A short walk down the street revealed to Amos' mum just how weak Sparks has become and how slow his dragging gait truly is. At a certain point in the walk, the leashless Sparkey simply chose to hobble up to the front porch of a very attractive and well-appointed country home and made it clear that he wanted to mount the steps and knock. Dissuading him, I donned the leash and urged him towards our friends' home and our waiting car. (This new habit of simply wandering off at will and walking up to other homes is an interesting turn of events.)

Overall, it was a successful trip down Memory Lane, and we hope to take the boy on similar outings in the next month or so, especially when the weather isn't too oppressive. After his hospitalization at Easter, we were told he might live two months, and here we are approaching 110 days since discharge from the ICU. We count our blessings and will continue to assist Sparkey in connecting with his past, seeing his loved ones and friends, and making the best of these latter days.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Salad Days?

According to, "salad days" means "a time of youth, innocence, and inexperience". While this definition may not hold true for Sparkey in his golden years, his predilection for fresh blades of grass as a daily dietary staple is something to behold.

Most dogs seem to only eat grass when they feel a need to vomit, a practice which I have previously deemed "Canine Ipecac", and a habit that Tina demonstrates periodically. For Sparkey, however, this herbivorous grazing has intensified since the onset of his illness, and I theorize that he intuitively knows that the grass is a tonic for his kidneys and he sets out to eat his daily fill as a way to self-medicate using what's available to him in the natural world.

I would not characterize Sparkey as youthful in the literal sense, nor would I deem him inexperienced, but he is, by nature, an innocent in this world. So, even if "salad days" is not a perfect fit, I see this time during which Sparkey begins to transition into the next world as a period of innocence, letting go of youth, releasing the past, and opening towards a new beginning, a new "youth" of the canine soul.

Bearing that in mind, if the boy wants grass, he gets it, and may the Goddess bless his pointy little head.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Everybody Loves Sparkey

They all seem to love Sparkey. The mail carrier leaves dog biscuits rubber-banded to our mail, a ribbon added at Christmas time. One of our neighbors calls him "a jolly old chap", noting his floppy ears and sunny disposition. Across the street from our driveway is a home operated by the Department of Mental Retardation where four developmentally disabled individuals live. The staff love Sparkey and Tina, and Sparkey will often make a bee-line for their front door. We ring the doorbell like it's Hallowe'en, and dog biscuits galore are passed from hands to eager jaws wet with anticipatory saliva. We're sometimes invited inside, and Sparkey makes himself comfy in the kitchen, he and Tina both knowing exactly where the treats are kept.

The people at the vet's office love him, and one woman who works there has now become a reader of this blog. (A shout out to Lynn!) A former dog-sitter extraordinaire reads this blog from Long Island and sends waves of love for her favorite canines, going so far as to have pics of Sparkey and Tina as wallpaper on her computer desktop (Thanks, Melissa!)

Downtown, our local used CD store and collectively-owned independent bookstore welcome our dogs with open arms (and treats). When the bookstore doubled in size last year and held a party to celebrate the occasion, both dogs were there. Dancing to Latin tunes by a local DJ, Sparkey was on the dance-floor with us, a smile on his face, especially when cheese and crackers were proffered to him on the sly.

Everywhere we go, we hear songs of praise for our dogs. Are they special creatures? Oh yes. Are other dogs less special? Hardly. But, as our dearly departed friend Woody once said, "Your dogs are so loving because they get so much love."

The love is still flowing, and it is engendered daily by those whiskered canine countenances which brim with compassion, beam with loyalty, and constantly express unconditional positive regard for the members of their pack. Our love is unconditional as well, and it's strength lasts until death do we part, and beyond.